Originally written on Red Light District Hockey  |  Last updated 4/18/12
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When commissioner Gary Bettman named Brendan Shanahan NHL disciplinarian, the hockey world knew a change was coming. The former dean of discipline, Colin Campbell, was lauded for his lenient and inconsistent punishments for hits targeted at the head. He further fell out of favor when his commentary criticized Marc Savard, a player he should have protected, for what he deemed embellished on-ice antics.
Before we move forward to present day, let's take a look back.
Following the lockout, Shanahan, as a player, was instrumental in aiding the current rule changes. Out went the clutch-and-grab and the red line -- effectively speeding up the game. Couple those changes with increased conditioning, hockey became even more dangerous as a sport.
No longer were players cautious of where they hit a player, they just tried to take the body at all costs; as hockey players they were taught to leave it all on the ice for the sake of the team. In theory, every part of the body was protected with equipment. Why would the game's speed change anything?
Well, it did. Ask Savard, David Perron, Peter Mueller and most recently, Sidney Crosby, among others. Their head injuries added up to headaches, memory loss and in recent cases depression -- which led to much worse events. Following an offseason full of 'hockey-related' deaths, the NHL needed to be portrayed in a better light.
Now we have Shanahan to slam the 'Shanahammer' and 'Shanaban' on any player unable to abide by the new rules.
Rule 27.1 of the official NHL rules dictated "A lateral or blind side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact is not permitted," but Shanahan took his interpretation a bit further. Despite the use of helmets, hits to the head will not be tolerated in any manner. Furthermore, repeat offenders would be penalized even further.
Despite the preseason consisting of exhibition games, Shanahan chose to enforce the rules, subsequently banning Jody Shelley, Tom Sestito, J.F. Jacques, Brad Boyes, Brendan Smith, Brad Staubitz, Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, Clarke MacArthur and most importantly, James Wisniewski for their assorted illegal hits. We say most importantly Wisniewski because his past suspensions labeled him a repeat offender and therefore took him out for all of the preseason and roughly 10 percent of the entire regular season (8 games).

(Shanahan has also been more hands-on and out-going in explaining his reasoning for the suspensions.)
While these actions could be construed as too strict, over-the-top or against hockey, it sends a message from the NHL down: correct the way you play the game or you won't be allowed to suit up. The NHL isn't alone in their crackdowns as the WHL, the Junior league synonymous with 'tough hockey', produced a seven-point plan in order to reduce on-ice injuries. Their CHL brethren, the OHL and QMJHL, also followed suit, recently joining this new era of protecting players while teaching them exactly what they are doing wrong.
The impetus of these changes are to put the sport in a better light. Eventually hockey will no longer be a media pariah on a national level with Shanahan on-site to prevent any further bleeding. If you are caught inflicting a hit to the head, you will be caught, suspended and lectured on what you did wrong.
The NHL chose to handle a fragile issue by instating a fan favorite who began changing the game for the better. Shanahan's impact should only further his legacy as a future Hall-of-Famer as he begins what we all hope is a more successful, and more importantly, safer game.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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